February 29, 2012

The courage to talk

How do you learn a language in 6 months?  I know the answer to that question.  You must hang out with a person exactly your size for 12 hours a day and never stop talking.
This method has worked smashingly for her.
And this guy surely appreciates the company (and audience).
Of course, they don't always get it right.  For example, Jubilee will announce that she is going into the chicken to get a glass of water.  She begs to ride the alligator up and down at the mall.  She wants me to roll up her sleeps when she is about to wash her hands (so she doesn't get them wet).
And that brings me to the real way to learn a language.  Go for it.  Throw those words out of your mouth, and don't wait until you know exactly what you are doing before you try.  If you wait too long, you'll be a dumb house marm like me, still relying on your husband to order the pizza after almost four years of living in my new country.

Maybe one day I will learn to take cues from my daughter, and I will roll up my sleeps and get over myself.

Because life is too short to stay silent.

February 27, 2012

72 days and counting

This piece of paper is taped in our school room doorway. The gumballs that have yet to be colored-in represent the days that stand between us and our trip to America.

There are 72 of them.

And those two blue gumballs behind the bifocal lenses can't wait to see Dallas getting bigger and bigger in the airplane window.

February 26, 2012

Bright's list

After reading my "whatever floats my boat" post (yes, Bright reads my blog), my 6-year-old made a list of his own.  This is exactly how it appeared in the Word document he typed this morning.  "Tokos" means "tacos," "move" means "movie," and I have no idea what the whole = thing is all about.  Precious.

I woud like to list down all the things I realy like; so hear we go:

                                                                                  by, Bright

February 25, 2012

Too much Chinese food

Is adoption perfect?

That would be an emphatic, "No."

At the surface, in and out of our days, she is absolutely no different than her brothers.  She makes up jokes, she dances on the dining room floor in her stocking feet to this song, she begs for another cookie, she prays "Jeeesus, my heart" at bedtime, she gobbles up her dinner, all the usual things.  She's our kid.  No bout a doubt it (as my daddy would say).
But dig a little deeper, below the surface, underneath our days, and she is undoubtedly adopted.  She looks different, first of all, to state the obvious.  She has black hair.  Her knees and elbows are ashy.  People on the streets ask what happened, how come our fourth child came out that way.  Daniel is tired of explaining adoption to a culture that doesn't get it, so he replies, "We ate too much Chinese food before she was born."  They usually laugh, but one time a group of migrant workers believed him.  Oops.

She clings to me.  She aches for something. She says things like, "I'm sad" and, "My feelings hurt."
She dances slowly in my arms to this song.

Is anyone's life perfect?

Now that is an emphatic, "No."

My worst memories of childhood are in my closet, crouched on the floor, hugging my nervous dog while he drooled on my toes.  While we waited out the storm.  The storm outside the house.  The storm inside the house.

My worst memories of adolescence are in my closet, hiding from the world, hugging my loyal dog while he licked my toes.  While we waited out the storm within myself.  Clinging and aching, just like my daughter, just like everybody else.

Which brings me to what is perfect.  Or rather who is perfect.  You all know Who I am talking about.

And so we hope on.  And hope on.  And hope on.

And we adopt little ones, because in an imperfect world, we've got to try, don't we?

I think that is an emphatic, "Yes."

how to build a shelter

"But won't your kids be sheltered?" people ask about our decision to raise them overseas.

"And that is bad because?" is our reply.

"But won't your kids be sheltered?" people ask about our decision to home school.

"And that is bad because?" is our reply.

"But won't your kids be sheltered?" people ask about our decision to keep alcohol out of our home.

You get the idea.

I don't understand the stigma that comes with the word "sheltered."  A shelter is a good thing.  It keeps out those things which are too powerful for us to withstand, such as wind, rain, hail, dirty magazines, drugs, ridicule, abuse, and shame, to name a few.  Children are tender, like green shoots.  Their roots are delicate and easy to pull out of the ground.  Though I can appreciate many different parenting styles, I see nothing wrong with sheltering my four green shoots until they are tough, thick trees, with root systems that a mack truck could not move. 

Well, OK, so maybe there is one bad thing about sheltering children.  Their theology might just become a bit, shall we say, skewed. 

Take Bright, for example, who saw an open beer can on the picnic table the other day that some friends had brought.  No one ended up wanting to drink the thing (the friend who brought it along actually thought it was a vegetable juice, and in her defense, it did have "V8" printed on the label in English).  So there it sat, right in front of Bright.

When I noticed him nervously eating his lunch behind the open beer can, I offered, "Would you like me to move this can from the table, Bright?"

To which he replied, quite relieved, "Yes, it is making me uncomfortable.  I am a believer."

Oh dear.

February 23, 2012

Miss Momo

She leaves tomorrow.  We are going to miss Momo!

p.s.  This is an actual clothing boutique that we spotted across the street from the restaurant where we had dinner the other night. 

February 22, 2012

Stone Forest: check

After living close to the famous "Stone Forest" for almost four years, we can finally say we've been there.

It was truly breathtaking.  Daniel, who is not prone to over-stating like me, said, "This is one of the neatest things I have ever seen."

The "forest", which spans roughly 96,000 acres, proved a challenge to traverse and to navigate.  For about an hour there, Momo and I thought we might live out the rest of our lives in the company of giant basalt formations.  My able, optimistic hubby was never concerned.

Speaking of my mother-in-law, that woman hiked her senior citizen self all over those rocky paths and I didn't hear her complain once.  Way to go, Momo!

Stone Forest?  Been there, done that.

February 21, 2012

A perfect match

Today is the 21st of February.  That means exactly one year has passed since we were matched to adopt our amazing daughter, Jubilee.

This was one of the pictures we received a year ago.
 This is her today.
And this is her today.
And this is her with her boyfriend, Andrew, who's family was our inspiration to embark on this fantastic journey in the first place.  OK, so these two are not officially dating, but the wedding is being planned, none-the-less.
Jubilee Sue, our little doll, I shall phrase it the way your grandpa did while he pushed you on the swing.  He said, "I couldn't love this little girl more."  It is true, Jubi, we couldn't.

It is evident that G0D had his eye on you, and his hand on you, too, from the moment you first drew breath.  He was with you on the street corner when you - at just a week old - were otherwise alone in the world.  He was with you in the orphanage while you waited for love to come.  He is with you now, in our family, where you belong.

He will be with you for the rest of your days.

And I will be with you, for the rest of mine.


February 20, 2012

mountain music

Having visitors gets us out of our apartment and into the culture around us.  The following video is a great example.  We let the toddlers skip their naps and decided instead to take a Sunday drive to the mountains, where we stumbled upon these beautiful older people playing hand-made instruments and singing in an eery, ancient way.  What a treat!

Music with Momo from Kayla Rupp on Vimeo.

February 17, 2012

Whatever floats my boat

Inspired by Pioneer Woman's latest "confessions" post, in which she makes a massive list of all the things she loves, I made a rough compilation of my own.  It is not exhaustive, and is in no particular order.

Diet Coke
Marvel Comics movies
My husband's gait
Long shadows
Symphony performances
The smell of a new book
The smell of an old book
Spaghetti and meatballs
Loretta Lynn
The New Testament
My parents
Chaco sandals
Pound cake with black coffee
A red face from playing a whole game of soccer
Writing anything
Sore muscles from a long, backcountry trek 
Cooking anything
Toby Mac
Allison Hilliard
From-scratch chocolate cake
My husband's smile
Dancing wildly when absolutely no one is looking
My daughter's beauty
Sharpened colored pencils
Lake Michigan in July
The smell of the inside of a tent
Fall leaves
Watching a professional fight
The smell of rain on pavement
Christmas music
"Fried Green Tomatoes"
Fishing when the fish are biting
Fishing when the fish aren't
A quiet house
Human kindness
A good cry
My husband's way with people
Grand finales
Phone calls from my brothers
Wiping down the dinner table while my sons wrestle
Liz Sharda
Caramelized onions
Speed boat rides
Herb stuffing
Downhill skiing
Bargain shopping
Positive pregnancy tests
Bootcut jeans
Cigarette smoke (for nostalgic reasons)
Thai food
Korrie, Candace, and Lydia
Mango sticky rice
Hay rides
Clausen pickles
Vintage kitchens
Food magazines
Reeses peanut butter cups
Fresh basil
Building a snow fort
Climbing a tree
Sitting in a tree for hours
Darci Long's pretty face
The smell of fresh-cut grass
Horseback riding
Rock concerts
Playing flag football
The lumps in my Cream of Wheat
Road trips
Interesting people
Broken people
Sour Patch Kids
Rootbeer floats

February 16, 2012

hosting momo

Rather than ranting on my blog during the spare 25 minutes each day that my CRAZY schedule allows me, I have been hosting my mother-in-law.  Happily, I might add.  She is wonderful.

Yesterday we went to our neighborhood market to buy fixins for dinner.  Scalloped potatoes with ham and roasted carrots was on the menu.  The kids were worn out from morning recess and hungry for lunch, so we let them hitch rides.  All four of them.  Good thing Momo had her camera!
I chose the largest, plumpest strawberries for our lunch.
My three youngest kids LOVE steamed buns, which are readily available in and around the market building.  I bought five of them to hold them over.
As usual, we had spectators.  These friendly ladies we both confused and excited by my little crew.
Dinner came together, with Nutella for dessert.  Good times hosting Momo!

February 13, 2012


Hearts have been a big part of our lives these past two years.

Magnetic hearts.

Hearts to bring a "smiyll."

Big hearts.


Good hearts.
Uncle Jack.

Uncle Kody.

An incomplete heart.
A fighting heart.
A stilled heart.

Broken hearts.

Warrior hearts.
Kerry and Glory.

 Hearts of young love.

Kayleigh and Bright.

Even hearts to eat.

"Love" has been redefined for us in the past two years.   It isn't about shared surnames, or shared gene pools, or even shared countries of origin.  A family isn't a group of people who've chosen each other.  In fact, most of us would have liked to have chosen some other group of people, from time to time.  But that is the beauty of love.  We may not have chosen each other, but we have chosen to love each other, forever, no matter what. 

Mine is a heart of gratefulness this Valentine's Day.  

February 11, 2012

The view from here

Momo has arrived!

Jubilee met her for the first time, just one day before we all headed west in our green van for a week-long thing we had to do in one of the cutest little towns in Asia.

The trip went well except for a stomach virus that ravaged many of us, including our little Jubilee.  She puked her way home through the mountains today, poor little girl, requiring us to stop 4-5 times to mop her off.  It was our first time cleaning her vomit, and it was sentimental, in a gross sort of way.  Daniel's exact words were, "A kid's not really yours until you've had your hands in her throw up."  There is truth in that.
Jubilee and Momo are doing well with their bonding.  Jubi has confused Momo with her personal assistant, however, (not surprising) and tells her what and when and where.  We all think our little girl is coming out of her "shell" more and more every day, especially with all the grandparent-love she has been getting in the past month.  She knows all her colors now, and a few shapes, and how to boss her big brothers, though I think she would call it loving concern.  Things like, "Don't fall down, Bright," and "Use two hands, Brave" frequently come out of her mouth.  Mommy DEFINITELY has a little helper.
We are glad to be home now, after all of our mid-winter travels.  The kids are ready for some routine, and some school work.  Daniel is ready for the spring semester, and some home cooking.

I am ready to collect my thoughts.

A lot has taken place around here since August, and it looks like a lot will be taking place in the near future (more on that later, though I will say it has NOTHING to do with acquiring more children).

For now, we will have our dear Momo sleeping on our couch for two more weeks, my grandmother's tuna-cheese-biscuit casserole for dinner tomorrow, and a little sleep tonight.

And a fresh dose of His mercies in the morning.

February 05, 2012

because I needed a pep talk

One afternoon on our vacation my mom said to me, "What's the matter, honey?"

To which I replied, "I have too many kids."

I don't really (have too many kids) but I am in the mucky, yucky thick of the toughest job on earth, and my face does not exude "life is a bowl full of cherries" most of the time.

It's hard to admit to that, with all the magazines and literature on parenthood displaying mothers with white teeth and tight sweaters handing five smiling children organic muffins with one hand while playfully tousling the hair of a hunky husband with the other.

And yet, if anybody (in real life) has a life that is anywhere close to truly wonderful its me, and I know it.  I have a husband who will never leave me, and who I could not think more highly of.  I have four great, healthy kids who say "please" and "thank you," and who have a genuine affection for one another.  I have my health and I have a safe, comfy home, and I have a G0D who lived and died for me so that in my inmost being I have peace.

And I have a 6-year-old who hollers my mantra at me from the other room, whenever I need to hear it most (and want to hear it least), "Keep calm and carry on, Mom.  Keep calm and carry on." 

And I have a 2-year-old who hollered at me from his time-out the other day, while I was weeping on the floor in the dining room from the sheer exhaustion of my life, "Je-shush will come back, Mommy.  Je-shush will come back." 

You can do it, Kayla.  Just keep going.  You can do it.

February 02, 2012

always something

This is what I found in Bright's mouth yesterday.  That baby tooth out front?  Not even loose.

Of course, our first experience with permanent teeth had to be this.  And of course it had to happen two days after returning from Thailand, where such a thing would have been no problem.  Here, however, dentists are known to fumble with money while wearing their rubber gloves, and then stick those gloves back in their patients' mouths.  That, or skip gloves altogether.  Gas?  Not likely.  Anesthetic?  If you're lucky.  Clean tools?  They look shiny enough. 


We called Uncle Philip (a.k.a. Philip S. Morton, DDS) who said we could wait until we come to Arkansas this summer, but the sooner that baby tooth gets yanked, the better.  He suggested at least going in for a consultation.  OK.  That sounded safe enough to us.

So this morning, after a quick breakfast, we loaded the family into the mian bao che and headed to the north side of town.  We passed a leather shop, and a noodle shop selling steamed buns, parking just in front of a dark shop with two dental chairs tucked into the second room.  A very friendly dentist greeted us, and even spoke a few words of English! (such as, "no pain" and "no problem.")  Before we knew it, Bright had a paper towel pinned beneath his chin and a needle headed for his gums.

The kid was a champ, though, I've got to say.  I had promised that if he took it like a man, he would find a very nice sum of money under his pillow tomorrow.  After the local had been administered, with only a brief, "Ow" from him, Bright looked at me and asked, "Was that worth 10 kuai?"

"At least," I said, smiling.  "Maybe 20."

In the end, the tooth was horsed out of his mouth, and we paid the dentist a whopping 50 kuai (about $8.50) and went on our merry way.  Bright spent the rest of the day eating coconut cream pie and walking taller than usual.  And there you have it, our first baby tooth is out.
What's the next big thing?  Our first broken bone?  I hope not.  Maybe we'll skate through the rest of childhood incident-free (yeah, right).  Maybe I'll have nothing more to report until Bright sprouts his first armpit hair.

Let's hope that doesn't involve anesthetic.

February 01, 2012

Driving to Thailand

(a rare blog from Daniel...)

Yesterday, we got back from two weeks of vacation in Thailand.   We've gone down to Chiang Mai a couple of times for medical care or to take care of passport stuff at the US Consulate, but this time we got to meet Kayla's parents and have a lot of fun.  A big part of the fun for me was that this was the first time for us to do this with our van.  Kayla and the toddlers flew down, while Bright, Zion, my good buddy John Greene, and I drove.  What started as an idea to save on airfare - which for a family of six has become increasingly unaffordable - became the adventure of a lifetime.

In the months leading up to our journey John and I looked all over the internet for suggestions about how to go about doing this and found almost nothing.  Cris, another guy in our city, had just done this a few months ago and was able to point us in the right direction.  I thought I'd post some of the details here for your enjoyment.  While most of Kayla's readers don't live in our area, some of you do and might like to give this a shot.  These details might be helpful to you.  The rest of you can at least enjoy the photos...

We set out about 7pm and drove straight down to the Laos border.  It took 10ish hours to get down, including about a 45 minute hunt for a gas station in PuEr.  The roads were surprisingly good and to my surprise the boys slept like babies until about 5am when we showed up at the border.  At that point, they were ready to roll and John and I were ready to crash.  We kind of slept while they crawled all over the van until the border opened up at 8:30am.  It closes at 5:00 so time your passing well.

Looking into the Lao border from the North

For yourself and your family, you'll need to get exit stamps in your passports first.  Then for your car all you really need is your license and the blue registration booklet that has the photo of your car in it.  For those of you who live here, you know that I actually brought every piece of paperwork I could get my hands on because who knows what random stamped slip of something they're gonna want to see.  In the same building where you get your passport stamped, they'll give you an exit card for your vehicle.  It has a place for an exit stamp and a reentry stamp.

Keep up with it, they told me I couldn't get back in if I lost it.  Anyone who is with you, then needs to walk through the border.  Then you drive through the big gate and they'll stamp your card after making sure you're not hauling a bunch of drugs or something.

Waiting for paperwork...  It took us 2 hours to cross the border into Laos, and 4 to cross into Thailand.
In Laos, as Americans you can get a visa on arrival, for 300RMB per person.  Right next to the visa shack is the car insurance shack.  I bought one month's worth for about 40USD.  While their currency is the Lao Kip, they take Kuai and USD.  Once you've got the insurance get in your car and drive into Laos.  Like last time, anyone who is with you must walk in and meet you on the other side.

Then it's a short drive to the Lao Customs office.  It straddles the road so you can't miss it.  It cost me 80,000 Lao Kips to bring my van into the country - a whopping 10USD.  After that, you're in.

Here's one problem.  Reliable maps of Laos are hard to find.  Even the Lao government doesn't make one.  They're probably too busy doing something...  else.  I hunted around and found a guy who lives in Thailand and had GPS'd his own.  He sells it for about 12USD and it was really helpful.  To my knowledge, even the Lao government recommends his map.

From the border go south on Road 13, take a right after about 15 minutes toward Luang Namtha.  There's no sign at that intersection, but it's the first paved road on the right.  Within about a 100 yards you should see a concrete pylon on the side of the road (very low to the road, and possibly covered with brush) that will tell you how far Luang Namtha is.  It took us an hour to get there, and then three more to the Thai border.

If you want to crash in Laos, John and I recommend The Boat Landing.  I couldn't believe this place was just tucked in the middle of nowhere Laos.

Our cabin was about 50USD for one night and included breakfast - really expensive for Laos but it was worth it.

Riverfront view
The place was really comfortable and romantic, I'd love to take Kayla there.  A British guy at the Lao side of the Thai border did ask John and I if we were a couple.  He was an odd man.  The roads in Laos are very windy, but well paved almost the entire time.

At the Lao side of the Thai border is Huai Xai.  It's a great little place that caters to people coming up from Thailand to get their visas extended.  Lots of little guest houses there so you could crash here as well.  Give yourself 4 hours to get your exit stamp, go through customs, and ferry your car over the Mae Kong river.

For the exit stamp, look for the Immigration office right on the river to the Southeast side of the main drag through Huai Xai.  You need to go down there first and get your exit stamp before legally leaving the country - that costs 10,000Kips or $1.25 per person.  It's located where most people come over on the small boats that bring people just coming over without a vehicle.  It's possible to ferry your car over without the stamp, then you'll have to come back over and waste a ton of time...

The next thing you need to do is drive on down the road through the town to the actual ferry crossing.  Really a cool experience.  It's 100Bhat for Thai Customs and 1500Bhat to ferry your car.  They're going to want to see the paperwork you used to enter Laos and the Lao customs papers you got when you first arrived.

To balance the ferry the guys direct the trucks to drive on at a certain times, backing up and pulling forward as other vehicles get on.  Really neat to watch.
I love how the guys take decorating their trucks seriously down here.  It says, "I deliver anything anywhere and look good doing it."

The ride was really relaxing and a nice break from the drive.
On the way down they washed my car for an extra 100Bhat.
Once into Thailand drive off the ferry, pay 25Bhat to the ferry house (for who knows what...), go up the road, take a right and Immigration is on your right.  You'll see a sign.  That's also where your car will go through customs and you'll buy car insurance.

Tip:  Don't buy car insurance from the recommended lady who has a lot of flowers around her little booth.  The flowers are nice, but it took 45 minutes.

The lady at the top of the hill on the right, who has the closest copy machine,  also sells insurance and is quite quick about it.  It cost 600Bhat for two weeks of coverage - about 19USD.  I don't think the Lao or Thai car insurance actually covers anything if you get in a wreck, but if you get stopped at a check point (which I did) they're going to want to see that you have it.

Once in Thailand, get yourself a good 3G sim card for mapping.  You'll go down through Chiang Rai and onto Chiang Mai.  Otherwise, good maps of Thailand are easy to find and the road signs there are very helpful.  For the first part of the trip down you ride right next to the Mae Kong and it is beautiful.  

The Mae Kong river, Thailand on the left, Laos on the right.

On the way back, John and I decided to stop for a swim.

Climbing down to the river proved to be a little challenge - check out the van in the top corner for scale.

The water was cold, but felt really good.

It takes about four hours to get down to Chiang Mai from the border.  Northern Thailand and Laos are really a treat to drive through.

On the way back I really wanted to try and drive through Myanmar.  The internet collectively said it was impossible and most Thai drivers I asked about it just laughed at me.  We gave it a very strong try but it was in fact impossible.  We could have driven in, but then we would have had to exit through the same point.  No passing through, or leaving the boarder town for that matter.  If they ever open it up, it would mean not having to ferry the Mae Kong and I think it would save a ton of time.

After spending a total of about an hour there, I feel like I should offer a few important things to note about Myanmar.

If you must stay there, there is apparently a VERY nice hotel:

If this tuk tuk driver mentions "Boom Boom" he is not talking about fireworks.  If you nod "Yes" in an affirming manner he will take you to a small green house filled with prostitutes.  The Boom Boom House. 

Also, GREAT NEWS - in Myanmar, somehow before Apple has even invented it themselves, the kind folks at the local night market will sell you the NEW iPhone 5 for about 100USD.  Amazing deal.

All in all, it took 29 hours including boarder crossings.  And, for a family of six cost around $1100.  That's almost a third of what we would have paid in airfare and we had a car to drive around while we were down there.  If I do it again, I would look into getting Thai and Lao visas before we go down, instead of getting them at the borders.  It would cost a little more but I think would cut down on time, especially if you could get a multiple entry Lao visa.  Also, I would break it up over two days.  One down to Luang Namtha, and then the next on down to Chiang Mai - the straight shot was pretty tough.  Good luck if you do it, we had the time of our lives.